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Cucumis sativus (Cucumber)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Core Eudicots > Rosids > Eurosid I > Order: Cucurbitales > Family: Cucurbitaceae

English cucumber. [photo H. Robertson, Iziko ]

Originates from a wild species growing in India that was domesticated more than 2000 years ago. Cucumbers today are mainly grown in hothouses. They are usually eaten sliced in salads or on sandwiches but are also blended up for cold sauces and soups. Less commonly, they are used in cooked dishes. Young cucumbers are pickled as gherkins (see true Gherkin).

Cucumis sativus is a cultigen species, thought to be the result of selective breeding of Cucumis hardwickii which grows from the foothills of the Himalayas through to Arabia. There are bitter terpene compounds called cucurbitacins in fruit of the wild species so presumably domestication partly involved selecting for fruit that were not bitter. It is unclear when cucumbers started being cultivated but their original domestication is thought to have taken place in India prior to 2000 BC. The classical Greeks and Romans ate cucumbers, the Romans evidently cultivating them in the first century AD in some sort of greenhouse (presumably no glass). 

Cucumbers today are mainly grown in hothouses. They are usually eaten sliced in salads or on sandwiches but are also blended up for cold sauces and soups. Less commonly, they are used in cooked dishes. Young cucumbers are pickled as gherkins (see true Gherkin).

References

  • Sauer, J.D. 1993. Historical geography of crop plants - a select roster. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

Text by Hamish Robertson


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